September 18, 2016
It’s lunch break. The food is delicious. I’m a Yogini; a devotee and the ten living principles (Yamas and Niyamas) – one of which is ‘ahimsa’ which means non-violence – form the foundation of who I am. As such I don’t eat other animals. I’m genuinely grateful of the efforts of our cook, a shy quiet man that loves his beautiful white mule, Katherina, dearly. The Moroccan culture is meat-centric, for the most part, so I appreciate the adaptations made just for me.
My shoe snapped up the last stretch of rocky terrain and scree. I’m lucky it happened when it did, Omar said. He’s my guide for the eight day trek through the mountains and up seven plus summits. We are still within reach of the village. Someone is on the hunt for a pair of shoes as we speak and will bring them up here. So we are waiting – lunch and shoes. I don’t mind. My body, although considered in decent shape by some standards is most definitely not in her optimal shape. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a proper trek. The break is good. The heat is a killer. I go slowly, “pole pole”. Slow like a turtle (the tale of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind. The turtle always makes it to the end). I enjoy that pace. That pace keeps me steady, keeps me from altitude sickness, and keeps my body from giving out. Omar said that a lot of foreigners rush up the mountain, they want to go fast. Specifically it’s the men that do it. Not the women. The women aren’t too proud, they take their time, he said. We have nothing to prove on that front. (Not to say we women don’t have anything to prove in a culture that finds it strange that we are out here trekking through mountains alone in the first place. But I digress). But the foreign men rush and end up vomiting before they’re even an hour in. Then they have to come down the mountain and take the long winding flat route. I don’t know if he’s exaggerating about these “rushing” foreign men but I could certainly believe any person that rushed would get ill based on the sharp, steady all-morning ascent we had just completed.
The weather is not too bad. The summer is apparently a killer. Today it is probably about 22-25 degrees Celsius. It’s still hot with all the exposure but it’s certainly better than being in the 30’s or 40’s. My hands swelled up nicely from the dehydration. It always happens. I’m carrying 3 litres of water and drink steadily but the hands are still puffy little sausages. I have the hands of a twelve year old so when they swell it looks funny. If I don’t flex my fingers open and closed often, they will get very stiff from the dehydration. So this extended rest is nice. The hands are returning to normal.
Omar has a habit of putting his arm around my shoulders and grabbing the top of my arm when he talks to me. When he does either, he tugs me forcefully into his body so that we are touching far more than is necessary. “Look at this view!” while grabbing my arm, yanking me to his body and wrapping his arm around my shoulder keeping me hugged into him. I don’t like it. Is it innocent? Doubtful. A curiosity of the foreign western woman? Maybe. I don’t know but I do know it’s inappropriate. He would never touch a local woman that way. I don’t want to be the woman that’s too chicken shit to say anything. So I will bring it up if it happens again. I’ve been running a script through my head – what to say so it’s not offensive and he can save face while I get to create a respectful boundary for myself and my body – not to mention continue for eight days with him in the wild. There’s an element of trust required on every expedition and groping a female client doesn’t elicit trust. I thought of saying “is this a Berbers thing? Because in my culture we don’t do that. It’s very uncomfortable in my culture. And it’s too hot.” It’s lame that I even need to come up with a script and I’m angry at myself for feeling “bad” that I have to tell a man to not touch me because I don’t want to upset him. I think many women can relate to what I’m saying. It’s not a new story for any of us worldwide. My understanding and experience over the years of traveling has been that some men – not all, some – in non-western countries presume that western women are “loose” women. (I also wonder if they know we aren’t “loose women” but they are willing to do things like this because they will get away with it.) If they did it to a local woman, they would get smacked or cussed out by someone else – man or woman. They see our television, movies and music videos; the magazine covers and social media and they think this element of pop culture – this hyper-sexualisation and objectification of women and girls – represents us. Of course they would. If all you ever saw of, say, American culture, was “Pimp My Ride” and “The Bachelor”, you would presume those programs encompass the culture. The same can be applied to African countries: if all you ever saw as a Westerner are images of half naked starving children living in adobe huts and various other forms of “aid porn” that are shoveled out en masse by major charities, that’s what you would think the continent of Africa is about (which I would say is, in fact, what many Westerners think Africa is about. It’s not). My point aside, traveling is wonderful but solo as a woman can present some challenges symptomatic of a patriarchal world, namely ensuring autonomy and agency over yourself and your body. Having the right to explore, adventure, climb, trek just as men do because, hey guess what, we’re all human beings.
I have to pee. I’m wondering where that happens. Is there an outhouse or will I be squatting in a bush. I brought toilet paper from the riad in Marrakech. I have the bladder of an infant so I’m always prepared.
When I arrived at the lodge – Imlil Lodge – this morning two Danish women were waiting for a transfer back. I presume it was a mother daughter duo. The daughter was probably in her forties and her mother her sixties. They did a 6 day trek ending with a summit of Toubkal. I saw other women of all ages in town as well – some in groups, some solo. The Journey Woman is a beautiful thing. I feel an affinity and a genuine sisterhood with them all. We all face the same fears and challenges in world travel whether it’s cultural views of women, safety or getting your period in the middle of nowhere – there’s a commonality. The woman from Denmark shared her experiences of the trek. She said it was fantastic, absolutely incredible. Her enthusiasm was heartwarming and encouraging. Any trepidation I had about my endurance for the journey ahead melted away in her presence.
We are still waiting for the boots. The weather is starting to cool. It’s 9 minutes after 3pm. It’s nice to see that the weather changes this quickly. I’m relieved. I hope I’ll be warm enough at night. The sleeping bag is light but Joe, my brother in law who loaned me the bag, uses it in Canadian summers and I believe early fall when it’s still warm. He’s not up in mountains but this time of year in the Atlas Mountain range, we are not seeing snow. Save for the peak where it is around 0-1 degrees Celsius at night, it only drops to about 7 to 10 degrees Celsius. That’s not bad. That would be similar to camping in New Brunswick in the summer months. I have my thermal joggers, my thermal base layers – top and bottoms, the knee length wool socks, Full of Grace’s sweater and if I must add additional layers, I have my scarf, a long sleeve quick dry shirt and these khaki pants and the socks I’m wearing. I think it will be fine. Tents get very hot at night when you insulate.
I have to go to the bathroom again. We’re in full squatting mode. I went about an hour ago and it was what we say with my nieces, only a number 1. Now it’s a number 2. I am admittedly a bit anxious the first time I have to squat in the bush in any new place – home or abroad. It’s not so much the act rather not wanting to be caught in the act; being caught literally with your pants down. It’s not a terribly graceful position and there’s no denying what you’re doing. There’s really no way to get up from that kind of position quickly either. You’re vulnerable, bare-arsed in the open elements, hoping an insect doesn’t bite your bottom (or worse), or you unintentionally put on a show for a local strolling past. But after that first time, it becomes natural and second nature – for me anyway. I’ve noticed a lot of my travel and outdoor stories revolve around having to go to the loo. I’m guessing this is a result of the small infant-like bladder and bowels…
I should probably stop typing and get to it. Over and out.